New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin has had a bit of a tough run through the first three games of his NHL career. From being thrust into action for his debut at Madison Square Garden following a freak pre-game injury to Semyon Varlamov to making some ten-bell saves to keep the Islanders in their game at Philadelphia, the young Russian has been training on the job.
Each game we’ve seen from Sorokin has been an improvement over the previous. He was shelled at MSG in his unfortunate last-minute debut, looked shaky but not terrible vs.New Jersey in a 2-0 loss, and after finally getting some goal support in Philadelphia, got the Islanders to overtime.
When asked about Sorokin at his pre-game media availabilities today, Barry Trotz told The Athletic’s Arthur Staple that it’s likely the goalie gets a start either Monday or Tuesday at Buffalo. He also noted that a stint in AHL Bridgeport at some point isn’t out of the question for Sorokin.
That second part probably isn’t ideally what Islanders fans were hoping to hear from the coach, but some time in the A might actually do Sorokin some good.
From Russia to the New York Islanders – to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers?
A lot of Islanders fans may see that quote and hate the sound of Sorokin going to Bridgeport for one reason or another. The Sound Tigers are bad, their coaching staff has a poor track record for prospect development, Sorokin doesn’t deserve a demotion, etc., etc.
But, don’t consider this a demotion. Yes, literally Sorokin would have to be demoted to the AHL to play for the Sound Tigers, but would more playing-time really be such a bad thing for the 25-year-old Russian netminder?
Consider that Semyon Varlamov is consistently posting good starts right now and that Sorokin hasn’t seen a start since January 31, and I think a move to Bridgeport makes plenty of sense.
Sorokin has wowed with some extraordinarily athletic saves in his last two starts. He’s displayed a strong first push and flexibility to make some great cross-crease saves against both the Devils and Flyers. But, he’s still got work to do to fix up his angles on the narrower North American ice of the NHL, and I think that plays a part in his rebound control issues as well.
As of December 2019, the KHL no longer plays on Olympic-sized rinks, they’ve shrunk their ice surfaces to 200 feet long by 92 wide, and even NHL-regulation 85 wide in some rinks. But Sorokin spent most of his playing time in Russia on the wider 200×100 foot Olympic-sized ice surface. That has made his transition to the NHL markedly more difficult I suspect.
For those who question why Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin didn’t have so much trouble with the adaptation to the North American surface width and play-style, remember, he played 25 games with the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack in 2019-20 before making the jump to the NHL.
Time riding the bus in Bridgeport may not be the be-all-end-all solution to getting those Sorokin rebounds under control, or fixing his angles. It may take building experience, and it’s probably going to take some patience on the part of Sorokin, and Islanders fans.
But, getting to start more regularly can’t hurt Sorokin, and he’ll definitely see more consistent starts in Bridgeport than he will with the Islanders currently. Those consistent starts will help to acclimate him to North American ice so he and the Islanders goalie staff can build up those fundamentals he’s currently lacking.
What’s even more positive is that he’s shown us athleticism that not every NHL goalie has. Fundamentals can be taught, practiced, perfected. Not every goalie is going to naturally have plus-athleticism, and that makes what we’ve seen of Sorokin very encouraging. Perhaps a short stay with the Islanders affiliate will be helpful to building upon those fundamentals.